The Bulletin Board

House committee rejects adding exceptions to state’s abortion ban

By: - January 19, 2022 4:07 pm
Hall of Flags in the N.H. State House

The House Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs Committee passed an amended version of the bill that eliminated the exceptions and made clear that an ultrasound is required only if a physician believes a woman is 24-weeks pregnant or close to it. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)

Less than a month after the state’s new 24-week abortion ban took effect, hundreds of Granite Staters – including Gov. Chris Sununu – weighed in this week on three bills that would scale back or repeal the law. 

The only bill to get a vote – House Bill 1609 – sought to clarify the law’s ultrasound requirement and add exceptions for rape, incest, fatal fetal anomalies, and risk to the mother’s health. Sununu urged the House Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs Committee to pass it in a letter Tuesday, saying it made “necessary improvements” to the ban that he signed into law as part of the budget. 

The committee declined, voting 11-10 for an amended version of the bill that eliminated the exceptions and made clear that an ultrasound is required only if a physician believes a woman is 24-weeks pregnant or close to it.

Asked Wednesday for a comment on the committee’s vote, Sununu said was glad to see the ultrasound requirement scaled back but still wants to see the exceptions added. “I think there’s definitely more steps that we can take, and we’ll work with the Legislature to see if we can get it done,” he said.

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard hours of testimony on the other two bills: Senate Bill 399, repealing the abortion ban entirely, and Senate Bill 436, enshrining the right to an abortion in the state constitution. Chairwoman Sen. Sharon Carson, a Londonderry Republican, said neither would get a vote Wednesday.

Committee members heard from people on both sides of the argument during the hearing, but the breakdown was far less balanced among those who registered their position remotely: On SB 399, 1,706 said they supported the bill, and 983 said they opposed it. For SB 436, the breakdown was 1,592 for and 114 opposed.

The testimony on all three bills was largely a repeat of what lawmakers heard last year as they debated the ban, which was ultimately put in the state budget that Sununu signed in June. 

Abortion opponents argued the ban balances a woman’s right to choose with a fetus’s right to life. And 24 weeks, they said, allows incest and rape victims several months to terminate their pregnancy legally.

Rep. Kurt Wuelper, a Strafford Republican and vice chairman of New Hampshire Right to Life, told the House Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs Committee that studies show that some rape victims choose against abortion.

“The mothers testify that the baby helps them heal, gives them a reason to continue living and look to the future,” he said.

Those seeking to overturn the ban said the law intrudes upon a woman’s private medical and life decisions, and forces them to deliver a baby unable to live on its own. And the law’s criminal penalties, they said, will deter physicians from coming to New Hampshire.

Rep. Amanda Elizabeth Toll, a Keene Democrat, shared with the Senate Judiciary Committee that she had sought an abortion before she was ready to have a child. 

“People of all economic classes, races, and religions access abortion care,” she said. “Legal barriers to abortion will not stop abortions. They will only keep disenfranchised folks from accessing the care they need, sometimes with deadly results. As government officials our goal should be to expand access to care, not to limit it.”

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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications.

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